Members of PASS recently received an email from president Thomas LaRock reminding us of the importance of proper etiquette and behavior at the summit. The email was prompted by a few unfortunate incidents of harassment, atleast one of which was highlighted by board member Wendy Pastrick as a personal experience. These posts were followed by a lot of discussion on twitter on how much to regulate, what to regulate, do you report or do you not, on and on. There are no simple answers to any of those questions.
The summit is a conference with as much as 30-40 percent of people from overseas – it is enormously hard to enforce very specific standards for behavior. Not to mention that USA is a country with the highest number of freedoms – so there will not be any norm that is totally acceptable to every person. I got a few emails/requests from friends overseas – particularly in Asia and Asia-Pacific region (for the record I was their Regional Mentor for many years) asking for clarity on what constitutes appropriate touch, among other things. A lot of them were just very confused in this regard. I will choose to share what has worked for me personally –
1 Is it ok to hug? If yes, whom?
Generally speaking, yes. I happen to be rather good with body language and I can usually tell when someone is open to it. I am good with my own too and have said more than once that I don’t feel particularly huggy that day. Intuition and body language are good things to keep handy – see if the person looks friendly first, that simple.Even after a decade of conferences there are people I’d rather not talk to – they are not friendly enough for me, I take brush-offs badly even if they don’t intend it, I have enough people I know,and I don’t think anyone is that important to force a conversation. Most trouble ends there.For a hug, just ask. And if it is not your thing it is totally fine to not do it. A courtesy hug is usually one-armed with palm below neck for a brief second or two. It is not a chest-to-chest embrace that lasts a long time. And if you don’t feel it is right for you, just put out your hand for a handshake, most people are absolutely fine with that.
2 What is an inappropriate touch?
Somebody touching you very intentionally, on parts of the body where it is not comfortable. Our bodies have built in wisdom – if someone is violating your boundaries you will know – you will feel flushed,embarassed and violated. If you are not body-wise – check with a good friend if how you feel is appropriate given the situation.
3 When do I report it – do I have to report it?
It is a difficult answer, and like many things in the SQL world – It depends. Reporting has some advantages because the person will not be able to continue the same behavior in public at the conference atleast.Also to remember that you can request anonymity – although chances are high that the perpetrator is going to know it was you. But there are personal cons to this too – depending on how you look at it. It is embarrassing to tell someone you got touched. It is just the way we are, and it is embarrassing for anyone, male or female. A lot of us can deal with it in our own way – I know of one girlfriend who slapped the man’s rear with a lot of force in return(it was effective!), some use odd humor to make the point, some have a frank talk with whoever is doing it. If you are a dark skinned person like me and if it is known you complained it is highly unlikely to make you any more popular, even assuming you are popular. And if you are a foreigner you really don’t want to cause any waves of that nature before leaving. It is all understandable. I would recommend though, to deal with it the best you can and not ignore it – as ignoring it is usually an invitation to the perpetrator that it is encouraged.For those who believe complaining is the route , there are enough valiant men in the community who can shoulder your cause – just approach any of them.
3 People seem to behave in all sorts of ways – sitting on each other’s laps, petting hair, kissing cheeks….how do I know what is the actual norm here?
This was actually a real question posed to me by a friend from overseas this morning – it was accompanied by some pictures of individuals at the summit. The answer to that is just that it is impossible to regulate how groups of people who are in consent with each other behave. If it is personally embarrassing, step away. I have done that multiple times. Where I am from, sitting on someone’s lap is reserved for romantic relationships and almost never done in public. I have no judgements against those who do it but it is too personally embarrassing for me and not something I can think my way out of. In short, ignore them and don’t base any of your own behavior on other people’s that you find difficult to accept as natural.
4 I am a man..is it my job to come to the rescue of any woman if I see her in trouble?
It is old fashioned for a man to jump to a woman’s rescue and many men simply cannot resist it. But physically lashing out against the perpetrator can have many consequences including landing you in jail, if you are not careful. If someone is asking for help, go to their rescue and hold the person via conversation or other means until help arrives. Usually there may be more than one man willing to assist with this if it happens at a community event or party. And no, it is not anyone’s job to protect anyone else, in theory. But it is everyone’s job to watch out and take care of each other.
There are a few more tips I have used that have made my summit experience positive :
1 Always attend parties with someone you know – preferably at least one person who will not be totally drunk and can be relied upon to return with you.
2 Be vigilant and use intuition whenever you are in physical contact with anyone.
3 When in doubt – ask. I have had many experiences at the summit but one that will always be clear and absolute about is that there are a LOT of kind, helpful people. So if complaining is too hard atleast talk to someone about your bad experience. Ask that they not complain if that is not what you want. (Some may not agree to this but there are many who will).
4 Use tips provided by John Morehouse on how to navigate crowds.
5 The summit is a very safe place and a great event to attend, don’t let this discussion lead you into thinking otherwise.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!